UWF archaeologists make new discoveries during Emanuel Point I artifact restoration

New wrinkles are being discovered in a 450-year-old artifact at the University of West Florida’s Division of Anthropology & Archaeology.

UWF archaeologists make new discoveries during Emanuel Point I artifact restoration
Previously undiscovered decor on an ancient Spanish breast plate excavated from the wreck
of Emanuel Point I in 1996 was recently noted at UWF [Credit: UWF]

During a 1996 excavation, UWF archaeologists discovered an ancient armoured Spanish breast plate — worn by conquistador Tristan de Luna’s army in 1559 — at the site of the first Emanuel Point I ship wreck near Pensacola. The breast plate was found in the stern of the ship during one of several excavations conducted since initial discovery was made in 1992.

Centuries underwater left the breast plate completely covered in marine growth. All the original metal was gone as the iron had been converted into iron sulfide. But concretion preserved the shape of the breast plate and allowed archaeologists to identify it.

“(In 1996) we had the Keeper of Armour for the Tower of London visit Pensacola,” recalled John Bratten, chair and professor of anthropology at UWF. “Then we took it to Sacred Heart Hospital and got a CT scan.”

Based on CT scan images in 1996, the armour specialist during that time determined that the breast plate was large in size, was probably made around 1510 in Italy, and was likely worn by a solider rather than a member of the mounted cavalry.

Bratten worked on the original concretion of the breast plate over the years, attempting to clean it from the back side by pouring in epoxy to make a cast. After years of letting the epoxy set, one of Bratten’s graduate students at UWF took an interest in finishing the process of epoxy casting, done to restore the plate as much as possible.

That student, James Gazaway, has made some noteworthy discoveries since undertaking the project a little over a year ago.

“He wanted to know if he could continue to work on it,” Bratten said. “He’s much more adept at that than I am.”

Gazaway said the last 13 months of work have been laborious to say the least.

“The breast plate itself was found near the wreck of (Emanuel Point I) and came off the bottom of the bay, and when it came up it was just covered in crustaceans,” Gazaway said. “Sediments that had basically turned into concrete over the metal. It was about, in some places, as much as 3 inches in concretion that needed to be cleared off.”

Once Gazaway did navigate through a lot of that concretion, he was amazed at what he found.

“One of the things we found was the center ridge line on the breast plate. In the CT scan and the X-rays and everything, it didn’t really show itself very clearly before,” Gazaway said. “It was a surprise to us.”

Gazaway said in Europe in the 14th century, the ridge line over the medial of the armour was a matter of style and preference.

“There were two basic styles, one had the medial ridge line and one didn’t, and it was pretty much a matter of choice,” Gazaway said. “More of your Germanic and English went toward the ridge lines and the Italian and French were rather smooth. Spain was a mixture of both.”

There was also a small piece of decoration that Gazaway uncovered.

“Right around the neckline there’s four parallel rows of lines about one millimetre a part,” he said. “Very precise, definitely inscribed, and part of the original decoration work on the piece. And to have any of that survive is just amazing.”

Gazaway said the original breast plate was likely 3-to-6 millimetres thick all over. But centuries worth of corrosion has impacted the breast plate to the point that its depth and width today is about a half-millimetre thick.

Gazaway’s discoveries, centuries after the breast plate sank to the bottom of the ocean with Emanuel Point originally and more than 20 years after it was found as an artifact, speaks to the long term, ongoing nature of revisiting artifacts as an archaeologist.

“The field work may last a couple years but the analysis can go on for decades,” Bratten said. “There’s new research that you can open up doors to new conservation techniques that come into play. You can get more information on something that you thought you already had a firm grasp on.”

Author: Jacob Newby | Source: Pensacola News Journal [October 31, 2018]



Major corridor of Silk Road already home to high-mountain herders over 4,000 years ago

Using ancient proteins and DNA recovered from tiny pieces of animal bone, archaeologists at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History (MPI-SHH) and the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography (IAET) at the Russian Academy of Sciences-Siberia have discovered evidence that domestic animals -cattle, sheep, and goat — made their way into the high mountain corridors of southern Kyrgyzstan more than four millennia ago, as published in a study in PLOS ONE.

Major corridor of Silk Road already home to high-mountain herders over 4,000 years ago
Iron Age rock art near the city of Osh shows the tall, beautiful horses that drove important Silk Road trade
[Credit: William Taylor]

Long before the formal creation of the Silk Road — a complex system of trade routes linking East and West Eurasia through its arid continental interior- pastoral herders living in the mountains of Central Asia helped form new cultural and biological links across this region.
However, in many of the most important channels of the Silk Road itself, including Kyrgyzstan’s Alay Valley (a large mountain corridor linking northwest China with the oases cities of Bukhara and Samarkand), very little is known about the lifeways of early people who lived there in the centuries and millennia preceding the Silk Road era.

In 2017, an international team of researchers, led by Dr. Svetlana Shnaider (IAET), Dr. Aida Abdykanova (American University of Central Asia), and Dr. William Taylor (MPI-SHH), identified a series of never-before-seen habitation sites along the mountain margins that form Kyrgzstan’s southern border with Tajikistan. Test excavations and survey at these sites produced archaeological animal bones that promised to shed light on how people used the Alay region in the past.

Major corridor of Silk Road already home to high-mountain herders over 4,000 years ago
Map of the study region, showing the Alay Valley and important geographic features
[Credit: William Taylor]

When Taylor and colleagues analyzed the bones that had been recovered, however, they were so small and badly broken that researchers could no longer use their size and shape to identify which species they originally belonged to.
“We were crushed,” says Shnaider. “To get so close to understanding the early economy of one of the most important channels of the Silk Road -and come up empty-handed — was incredibly disheartening.”

However, Taylor and his colleagues then applied a technique known as Zooarchaeology by Mass Spectrometry, or ZooMS. This method uses laser-based, mass spectrometry to identify the peptide building blocks that make up collagen inside the bone itself — peptides that differ across animal taxa, and produce unique “fingerprints” that can be used to identify otherwise unrecognizable pieces of bone.

Major corridor of Silk Road already home to high-mountain herders over 4,000 years ago
Horses next to the beautiful high peaks of the Alay Valley, southern Kyrgyzstan
[Credit: William Taylor]

With this technique, Dr. Taylor and his colleagues discovered that people living in the Alay Valley began herding sheep, goat, and cattle by at least 4300 years ago. Combining their work with ancient DNA research at France’s University of Toulouse, they also found that in later centuries, as Silk Road trade flourished across the region, transport animals like domestic horses and Bactrian camel became increasingly significant in Alay.
For Taylor, this research is especially exciting because of the range of possibilities it points to for archaeological research across the high mountains of Inner Asia. In many parts of the region, fragmented assemblages like the ones analyzed in this study are commonplace in the archaeological record.

“This study shows us that biomolecular methods like ZooMS and ancient DNA can take the fragmented piles of bone that have been almost worthless to archaeologists,” he says, “and open up a whole new world of insights into the human story across Central Asia.”

Source: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History [October 31, 2018]